Briefly describe the work you do.
My practice investigates the deep sea fishing industry and its rapid decline due to federal fish quotas. My father was a long-lining captain for fifty years, so the subject interests me as a way to re-connect to my own family narrative. I have been interviewing fishermen, gathering imagery through photographing and drawing on the fishing docks and markets to use as resource material. I have also painted on boats while observing the process of fishing for swordfish.
Tell us about your background and how that has had an influence on your work and on you as an artist.
Both of my parents have been creative role models for me. My father was one of the original long-lining captains. He began fishing as a career at the age of fourteen. He caught swordfish and tuna and would travel up to five hundred miles out for up to six weeks. I went with him on several chartered trips after he retired from fishing commercially. His passion for the sea and also his talent as a singer and storyteller influences my career vision. My mother drift fished, shrimped and caught swordfish with my father. Her Irish father was a plumber and sheriff in rural southern Wisconsin. My mother also catered on boats and created and marketed her own salsa. I grew up in South Florida and its festive culture has its imprint on me.
The concept of the artist studio has a broad range of meanings in contemporary practice. Artists may spend much of their time in the actual studio, or they may spend very little time in it. Tell us about your individual studio practice and how it differs from or is the same as traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
My goal is to spend as much time painting in the studio as possible. I have been taught to begin painting immediately when I enter my studio. This test has been serving me well. Painting in plein air is preferred; however, sticking to a studio routine is critical in bringing works together by seeing them all in one place. Also, the size of the studio is important. Too small of one may produce pigeon-holed ideas and too large of one may produce stale work by not being forced to physically switch works around and letting go of “expired” resource materials. Dedication to a studio routine is like being a responsible dog owner. It must be fed regularly, protected, and brought into the community in a state of awareness in order to stay enthusiastic.
What roles do you find yourself playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
I play the mathematician role as a problem solver. The process of art making is similar to the drive to find problems, break them down, and make sense of it. I have also found the value in performing the role as a friend to my paintings. I keep my touch light enough to allow more freedom to exist in the process of making and I tighten the work up later after familiarizing myself with it and allowing a collaboration to exist with the unexpected. Finally, I play hostess with the knowledge that the attitude of the painting and its point of entry are equally as important as its confidence as a whole. Along these lines, the last mark made will be the first mark read.
When do you find is the best time to make art? Do you set aside a specific time everyday or do you have to work whenever time allows?
I like making work early in the morning because it gives it a sense of urgency since its the first task being done for the new day. It also gives me more time to revise, ask friends for feedback, and let the works rest while leaving the studio for new resource material. I am good at remembering my dreams the previous night and I allow this to inspire my practice. I like being slightly out of touch with reality when painting and performing right away in the morning before any other stressors carries a dream-like quality into the painting. This compliments my glazing and collage techniques through emphasizing the medium’s ability to be both flexible and crude in juxtaposition.
How has your work changed in the past five years? How is it the same?
My work has changed through a greater specificity and faith. Through working to support my studio practice, I have made dozens of terrible pieces. I also took a risk to further my education. Taking risk to change directions and schooling with others has put demands on the work to force change and innovation. The ambient space I desired in my work five years ago has transformed into a declarative space. The physical properties of oil paint have become more meaningful to my intended psychology and also to welcoming an element of surprise.
How have people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers, other artists or even pop icons had an impact on the work you do?
My family and friends have been wholly supportive to the work I do. Traveling away from my hometown and its culture has made my understanding of it more complex, including realizing how it has shaped my beliefs and habits. Unabashed critiques and intimate conversations with friends impact the work and keep things brewing longer. It also helps to vocalize inner thoughts. Artists and philosopher icons create similar feelings of anticipation and excitement in a similar manner as dear friends. I am thrilled when other painters come to mind through noticing in my artwork similar paint handling choices and shared philosophies.
Have you ever been pulled in the direction of a pursuit other than being an artist? What are your other interests?
Yes. Outside work has pulled me in the opposite direction from the pursuit of being an artist. Not having enough blocks of time and energy remaining after a day job depletes more rapid progress and breakthroughs. I have a deep respect for hard work, so it does not seem problematic until after the fact. My work connects to my own experiences with labor and I am pleased to have begun to digest my family roots in order to comment more fully and preserve human reactions to mechanical and physically exhausting types of labor.
Crystal Cudworth is a painter and photographer. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 2011 and her Master of Fine Arts from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts (SMFA) in Boston, Massachusetts in 2015. She has exhibited her artwork in Boston including “Go Places” at the Boston Youth Hostel as part of the Darkroom Project Series, “Same Story, Fish Story,” at the Cyclorama as part of the Master of Fine Arts exhibition, and juried exhibitions including “Spectrum 2015,” “Refraction,” and “Yes-Paint” at the Museum School. Cudworth was awarded the President’s Award and the Montague Travel Grant from SMFA in 2015.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.